On The “Paint In” Of 1966 & The End Of The Centennial Fountain

_Sorry-for-the-inconvenience_-CVA-2009-001

Earlier this year it was announced that the Vancouver Art Gallery would be relocated from its current home to a brand-new structure at West Georgia and Cambie Streets. With this news came a second ruling that the 48 year-old Centennial Fountain out front of the gallery would not be preserved. The decision was met with a variety of perspectives, most arguing that the large fountain wasn’t conducive to the flow of pedestrians in the common area, and was no longer valuable as a gathering place – not to mention it had become prone to leaks. Others pointed out its historic character, and its value as a work of art itself, constructed of small, hand-chosen mosaic tiles by artist Alex von Svoboda. Whatever your thoughts on the fountain may be, there’s no denying that it’s a big piece (both literally and figuratively) of the Downtown core’s history.

Prior to its official unveiling in 1966, Premier W.A.C. Bennett wished to have the fountain’s construction kept hidden in order for it to be a surprise for the public. The fountain was intended to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the colonial union between BC and Vancouver Island in 1886. In 1966 the grounds were still home to the provincial courthouse – the VAG didn’t take it over until 1983. A memorial drinking fountain honouring King Edward VII was also sharing the ground out front on Georgia Street; it was moved to the side of the courthouse building in 1972.

Bennett requested the construction hoarding around the fountain site to be painted green and white, which conveniently enough were the colours of his BC Social Credit Party. However, this simply wouldn’t do for the more creative types at City Hall. Despite not being the renowned tourist attraction it is today, the location was nonetheless at the center of a growing cultural epicenter and therefore was a prime location for Mayor William Rathie’s alternative proposal to allow local artists to paint the hoarding instead.

The “Paint-In”, held on April 6th, 1966, featured over 100 local amateur and professional artists and displayed a wide range of styles and subjects. Artists had been encouraged to sign up and individual spots along the hoarding were assigned. Georgia and Howe Streets were closed as a large, curious crowd watched the painters get to work. The newly-formed Vancouver Life magazine even featured a photo of the artworks on the cover of their May issue.

The artists’ murals remained on view until the centennial fountain’s unveiling in December; what became of the artists’ work isn’t clear. Regardless, the creative stunt is not without its legacy. In 1968, the British Columbia Provincial Museum in Victoria staged a similar gathering and invited several local artists to paint on the hoarding around its construction zone. Check out the gallery below to view some of the unique works that helped add a little extra fleeting colour to our city.

  • Admiring the artwork, CVA 2010-006
    Admiring the artwork, CVA 2010-006
  • Centennial fountain - 1967 CVA 1435-648
    Centennial fountain - 1967 CVA 1435-648
  • King Edward memorial out front of the courthouse - 1907
    King Edward memorial out front of the courthouse - 1907
  • Crowds admiring the murals, CVA 2009-001
    Crowds admiring the murals, CVA 2009-001
  • _Sorry for the inconvenience_ CVA 2009-001
  • King Edward memorial fountain - 1920s CVA Mon P35
    King Edward memorial fountain - 1920s CVA Mon P35
  • Construction hoarding mural CVA 2009-001
    Construction hoarding mural CVA 2009-001
  • Courthouse fountain - 1967 (Jack Lindsay photo)
    Courthouse fountain - 1967 (Jack Lindsay photo)
  • Georgia and Howe CVA 2010-006 067
    Georgia and Howe CVA 2010-006 067
  • Construction hoarding mural  CVA 2009-001
    Construction hoarding mural CVA 2009-001
  • Fountain - 1967 CVA 1435-647
    Fountain - 1967 CVA 1435-647
  • Vancouver Life Magazine, 1966
    Vancouver Life Magazine, 1966
  • The old Devonshire Hotel CVA 2010-006 064
    The old Devonshire Hotel CVA 2010-006 064
  • Reserved artist space, CVA 2009-001
    Reserved artist space, CVA 2009-001
  • Painting murals on construction hoarding - CVA  2009-001
    Painting murals on construction hoarding - CVA 2009-001
  • Murals on hoarding at centennial fountain, CVA 2009-001
    Murals on hoarding at centennial fountain, CVA 2009-001
  • Murals on hoading, CVA 2009-001
    Murals on hoading, CVA 2009-001
  • BC Motorist Magazine, 1968
    BC Motorist Magazine, 1968
  • Local artists painting construction hoarding CVA 2009-001
    Local artists painting construction hoarding CVA 2009-001
  • Local artist, CVA 2009-001
    Local artist, CVA 2009-001
  • Local artist, CVA 2009-001
    Local artist, CVA 2009-001
  • Local artist piece, CVA 2009-001
    Local artist piece, CVA 2009-001
  • Different styles, CVA 2009-001
    Different styles, CVA 2009-001
  • _The conclusion is material verses humanity_, CVA 2009-001

Vancouver Life and BC Motorist magazine images courtesy of Jason Vanderhill. Archival photography of the murals is the work of Ernie H. Reksten and Leslie F. Sheraton.

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